South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Chakma Raja Devasish Roy yesterday in a written statement refuted Foreign Minister Dipu Moni’s claim that non-Bangalee hill-people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts are not “indigenous” but “ethnic minorities”.

As the minister termed the hill-people as economic migrants, Raja Devasish said political, social, and economic causes of migration cannot be the basis of disentitlement to “indigenous” status.

Devasish, who is also a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, referred to the ILO Convention No 107 that Bangladesh ratified, and said to be qualified as “indigenous” a community does not have to have resided in a place for millennia.

A community need to have merely settled or lived in a place “at the time of conquest or colonisation” and need to have lived in conformity with the political, social and cultural institutions of pre-colonial times to qualify as “indigenous” — according to the ILO Convention, he said.

While briefing diplomats on Tuesday in the auditorium of the foreign ministry, Dipu Moni said a special and elevated identity to enfranchise only 1.2 percent of the total population by disentitling the 98.8 percent cannot be in the national interest of Bangladesh.

Differing with the statement, Raja Devasish said the status of Bangalees as natives of Bangladesh is not challenged or questioned by the assertion of the “indigenous” identity of other ethnic groups.

Recognition as “indigenous” will not provide any privileged status to the non-Bangalee hill-people, he added.

He referred to the cases of Nepal, the Philippines, and Scandinavian and Latin American countries where recognitions of the “indigenous” population did not curb any rights of the non-indigenous people.

The foreign minister said in her briefing that in the constitution, through the 15th amendment, the present government categorised the non-Bangalee hill-people as “ethnic minorities” and no longer only as “tribal” people.

The Chakma raja differed and said the statement of the minister is incorrect as “there is no reference to ‘ethnic minorities’ in the constitution”.

Raja Devasish said according to the latest amendment to the constitution, the new article 23A refers to “small nations/peoples”, “small ethnic groups” and “small communities”. Just because the constitution does not explicitly refer to minorities, it cannot be denied that minority groups exist; similarly it is incorrect to say that there is no “indigenous” people in Bangladesh, he added.

The indigenous people of CHT fulfils the criteria of “indigenous” by being (i) descendants of pre-colonial or pre-conquest societies; and (ii) by adhering to pre-colonial or pre-conquest political, social and cultural institutions’ norms and customs, among others, the Chakma king said.

About the minister’s comment about “tribal people” of CHT migrating to Bangladesh, he said may be that is equally applicable to other Bangladeshi citizens that are of Bangla-speaking or Urdu-speaking origin belonging to the Islamic faith, who migrated from present-day India or Myanmar.

Source: The Daily Star – 28.07.2011